This guest post is from Brent Sharpless, a fellow traveling canuck currently living in Alberta
Tracking Silverback Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi, Uganda
We are thrilled to have Brent tell his amazing story about an experience like no other – jungle trekking in the mountains of Uganda in search of mighty Silverback Mountain Gorillas!!
When my wife Anna told me she desperately wanted to travel to Uganda, I was understandably skeptical. Images of Idi Amin and the terrible violence that was perpetrated against innocents in the country during the 1970’s flashed before my eyes.
I thought she was nuts, but I promised to do some reading and research to educate myself thoroughly before committing to anything. What I found in my reading was an incredibly lush, mountainous, safe country that was populated by extremely welcoming and humble people.
While the country borders the Democratic Republic of Congo (a place I think is neither democratic, nor a republic), Uganda is a very safe place and the perfect stop on the Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda loop itinerary.
You will undoubtedly read about Mountain Gorilla Tracking when learning about Uganda – particularly in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. This lush rain forest is so old it is believed to have survived the last ice age and is currently home to 360 of the remaining 700 Mountain Gorillas on earth.
Ugandans have led the charge (thanks to individuals like Dian Fossey) to preserve the habitat and population of the worlds largest and least understood primates. Needlesstosay, we were very excited about the prospect of witnessing this mighty primates in their wild habitat!
Mountain Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi is an absolute must for those who appreciate authentic environmental and cultural experiences. When you find yourself face to face with a 650 pound Silverback Mountain Gorilla after trekking for hours through dense jungle – you get a glimpse of what mountain life in Africa was like thousands of years ago. Humans alone in nature.
Don’t worry – there is a guide with a large rifle and machete who assures you that ‘running is a bad idea’ when the gorilla decides to display his dominance (which he will surely do…just ask my wife).
Make no mistake – Gorilla Tracking in Uganda is not for the feint of heart!
Getting to Bwindi is not an easy task unto itself. After flying into Entebbe, the airport town just down the road from Kampala, you embark on a ten-hour drive across the country to Kisoro. While the distance is only 500km, the roads wind through treacherous mountains and are not particularly well kept.
This travel experience is an adventure that is by all definitions ‘off the beaten track’. After 10 hours in the car, the descent into Kisoro is a beautiful sight for your sore bum.
From Kisoro, the hike to Lake Mutanda is about 10km along well preserved trails, where you will meet cheery rural people along the way who are living exactly as their ancestors did thousands of years ago. Mud huts devoid of running water and electricity are precariously placed atop steep hillsides, as woman with babies on their backs farm the lush landscape.
Once you reach the lake, the paddle via dugout canoe is about 2 hours to the Nkuringo Safari Lodge, a picturesque group of well appointed cabins placed on a small peninsula. Views from the lodge point towards the Virunga Volcanoes, a collection of 6 volcanoes that serve as the meeting point for the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.
After a nights rest, it is another 10km hike to the town of Nkuringo. This small town of 200 is perched at nearly 2500 metres and is a perfect ‘base camp’ for your day of Gorilla Tracking. From Nkuringo you are well situated to track any of the 6 Gorilla Groups that live in Bwindi Forest.
Travel Tip – Tracking permits must be arranged well in advance through the Uganda Wildlife Authority. There are only 8 permits issued per day to track each of the 6 groups in the forest.
This means the maximum number of people tracking Gorillas each day is 48 – a number that is intentionally kept low because the animals are extremely susceptible to human disease and habitat disturbance can be catastrophic (see Rwanda).
An eerie silence came over our tracking group as we came upon these amazing animals that patiently welcomed us into their world. Visitors are only allowed 60 minutes with the Gorillas and it is an hour you will remember forever.
The entire trekking and Gorilla tracking experience can be organized through Robert Brierly at www.nkuringowalkingsafaris.com – we are not being paid to promote this company, just sharing our positive experience with a well run, respectable tour company.
After your day of Gorilla Tracking, you retire to the Nkuringo Guest Campsite – which is both a lodge and camp area that overlooks the most spectacular topography you can think of.
Life in the town of Nkuringo is a throwback to a time when things seemed a lot less complicated. Children run barefoot through the spotless dirt roads and play soccer on a field they have affectionately named ‘on top of the world’ because, well, it is. Meeting the people of Nkuringo will undoubtedly be the most authentic cultural exchange you can have while traveling.
There are no ‘tourist’ centers here. The townspeople simply welcome you into their lives with an honest smile because they know that life amongst the Mountain Gorillas is so incredibly special.
We’ve travelled to many places and experienced many cultures, so believe me when I say that Uganda is the most beautiful country we’ve ever seen. Do yourself a favour – go to Uganda!
Thanks for sharing your story Brent. It reminded us of a recent adventure we had tracking rhinos in the Nepali jungle. It must have been an incredible moment standing so close to a Silverback Gorilla!
Have you seen Gorillas in their natural habitat?
Share your experience in the comments section below, we’d love to hear about it!